Pinup On The Plains: An Unexpected Labor Of Love For Fargo Photog

Pinup on the Plains, a rare excuse for Fargo women to really dress up, is quickly approaching. October 2 will mark the sixth anniversary of Pinup on the Plains for Yvonne Denault, a local portrait and boudoir photographer, and her trusty sidekick (and event coordinator), Nadine Swee.

But the show (and her photography career) was never something Yvonne imagined for herself. “I fell into this,” Yvonne admitted. “This is not something I prepared for my life… at all.” After a career with Microsoft, eight years teaching at M | State, and owning her own ad agency, Yvonne began to renovate an available rental space (that was fit for a studio).

Although she never intended to be the photographer that occupied the space, the self-proclaimed workaholic accepted the challenge for yet another creative endeavor. Yvonne thought, I’ll try this… I’ll dabble in it. Before she knew it, the business was booming, and she was forced to shut down her ad agency due to the high demand in photography. She quickly learned something about herself: “I dabble… but I just don’t dabble. I jump in feet first,” she admitted.

The History of Pinup on the Plains

Pinup on the Plains began as a client appreciation party with 25 people packed into the studio. Over time, the party moved to the Plains Art Museum and tickets were given away the first year. Eventually, Yvonne looked at her expenses and realized, “This is really costing me a lot of money to put on a party for Fargo.”

Tickets increased from $15 to $20 and gradually increased to this year’s $65 general admission ticket. Every year people grumble about ticket prices, but as Yvonne explained, “Tickets cover expense. We will be lucky if there is any profit left over to cover our time and effort.”

“It’s like we’re planning a wedding every year,” Nadine chimed in. “And by the way there’s 700 people there. It’s more than my wedding was.” Yvonne agreed. The amount of work and hours required to plan this event is enough to send the photographer (who is also editing 25 photo shoots in the meantime) over the edge.

The saving grace is the publicity Yvonne receives so she can book discounted boudoir photo shoots.  “[Nadine’s] gotta talk me into this event every year,” she said. “It’s really not my event anymore; it’s morphed into its own beast.”

Working 80+ hours per week with few breaks in between, Yvonne and Nadine bust their butts to wrap up the planning for the event. When asked for a general outline of the steps taken to plan for a fashion show, they burst into laughter. Where would they even begin?

All the Steps Required to Plan Pinup on the Plains

1. Choose the event date. Yvonne and Nadine typically have a good idea of the following year’s event date a year in advance.

2. Book a venue. After recapping the show, Yvonne and Nadine decide which venue would be appropriate for the next year, based on attendance and how smoothly the show went at that particular location. This step is usually completed nine months in advance so the venue can be incorporated into the planning.

3. Pick partners for promotion. According to Nadine, partners are “like-minded, women-centric type businesses that we want to be promoting the event with us. They are really a big part of our planning.” Not only do the partners help spread the word (and receive free advertising), they also help provide the VIP purses filled with discounts and coupons from each sponsor.

4. Choose a theme. Yvonne said the theme is one of the most highly anticipated aspects of the whole production. Because this formal event is unlike any other in Fargo, women begin planning their attire well in advance. This year’s theme is all things floral.

5. Set dates. Once the event date is chosen, the following dates are chosen by working backwards. “We want models selected by this time… that means we need to cast them well in advance,” Nadine noted. Dates must be chosen for:

– Model call

– When final models will be selected

– Model fittings

– Custom individual photo shoots for marketing materials—typically three models are used from the previous year’s show

– Runway dress rehearsal

6. Create a boutique. This year’s planning included a whole new step. Yvonne had struggled with finding pinup clothing for her models in the past. This year, in the midst of event planning, she opened Vivie’s Lingerie Boutique on June 22 to account for women of all sizes.

This venture involved a whole planning process of its own, including attending market in Las Vegas to view available product, what the order limitations were; paint and refurbish the store (which Yvonne fortunately already owned); obtain business licenses; order display fixtures, set up the POS, and create signage; create the website; stock the store with inventory; and choose store hours and hire associates “so we could open early around our crazy schedules!,” Yvonne said.

7. Design the venue space. The runway, atmosphere, and decorations must all be considered when planning the event. Nadine admitted this step was a big part of the planning.

8. Arrange seating. Yvonne and Nadine receive details from the venue after booking, giving them an idea of space and available seats and tables. From there, they create a map according to the stage set up.


9. Plan lighting and acquire a sound system.

10. Book a live band. Yvonne said that each year there is pressure to make the show bigger and better than it was the year before. This year, for the first time ever, there will be a live band after the show until 1 AM, called Brat Pack Radio.

11. Hire a caterer. This year’s venue, the Avalon Event Center West, will be providing catering for the show. Desserts are typically served at the event. Yvonne explained, “We want it to be decadent with sweets and chocolate—a girl’s true best friend!”

12. Cull through model applications. The only requirement Yvonne has for her models is that they are older than 18 and out of high school. Women ages 18 to 60 have strutted down the runway each year. Yvonne and Nadine sift through photos and applications, contacting applicants that make the cut.

13. Hold model call. This year, roughly 40 applicants attended model call, where Yvonne and Nadine met them and took a look at their runway walk.

14. Select models. This year 19 fabulous women of varying ages, ethnicities, and body types were chosen to represent the women of Fargo.

15. Model fittings. Each model is scheduled to get fitted for the runway.

16. Order clothing, props, and accessories. Along with the clothing that is ordered for each model, additional props and accessories, such as jewelry, shoes, purses, etc. are ordered as well.

17. Sew couture pieces. Each year, Yvonne unleashes her creative side and adds yet another line item to her to-do list. As part of the entertainment and rarity of the show, the photographer designs and sews couture outfits. This year, eight original outfits will be featured. “It’s a way to bring high end couture appearances to Fargo that bring fantasy to life,” Yvonne said. “It’s different…daring a bit. I think that’s why it’s entertaining.”

18. Photograph models for promotional content. Yvonne, on top of the photo shoots for her business, photographs three models to match the year’s theme. These photographs are used for marketing materials and promotional content.


19. Organize the runway lineup. Part of the catwalk planning is to create the perfect lineup, ensuring that the ebb and flow between models and outfits is spot on—starting with a show stopper and ending with one.

20. Design and print marketing materials. Yvonne admitted that her degree in Graphic Communications from MSUM has benefited the event (and her business) visually and marketing-wise. Marketing materials must be designed and printed for the website, posters, tickets, reservation signs, Facebook pages and ads, email blasts, signage for the event, printouts for shoot packages, and VIP coupons.

21. Choose runway music. The music for the fashion show is selected for each set. Pinup sets get vintage music that fits the jazzy era, while lingerie arts get a sexy, darker feel to the music. “We always aim to inspire, so some music should stir emotion in the audience and the models,”Yvonne said. Current music mixed with a few classics is typical for the shows. “I personally like finding music that is unheard of but still has a sexy overtone,” Yvonne noted.

22. Complete runway dress rehearsal. This year dress rehearsal was held about a month out from the show on August 30, lasting ten hours long. This is where the show begins to take shape, readying the models for the runway.

23. Setup for the event. Event setup is completed the day before the fashion show by Yvonne and Nadine themselves.

24. All the other things their brains can’t remember. As you might guess, there are many more steps that go into planning an event for 700 people. That’s where steps 25 through 97 come into play. They just saved you some time reading.

When Yvonne and Nadine finally wrapped up their step-by-step guide, they seemed a bit breathless. Clearly, surviving the months leading up to Pinup on the Plains requires something special. “Our husbands are great helpers,” they both admitted.

After the show, the two give themselves roughly a week to recap and decompress, pointing out what they need to change and what they need to note for the future… before they begin planning the next year’s event.

[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]

Right now, from here on out, we don’t own our own lives.

~ Nadine Swee


Despite the stress, Yvonne and Nadine admit that it’s the cause that keeps them going—what keeps them awake after sleepless nights. “We want to make people feel accepted no matter who they are,” Nadine said.

Before the show “the models were timid and scared to death. They saw us and the minute they hit that runway—we changed 15 women’s lives last year… and that’s just the women in the fashion show!” Nadine added. “That’s not including all the women in the crowd like, ‘I could totally do that! These are my friends. I could totally do what they just did.’ For me, that’s what makes it fulfilling.”


If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, you’re in luck. Roughly 50 general admission tickets, and eight VIP tables (three, 6-person tables; and five, 3-person tables) remain for the October 2 show.

General Admission ($65): Includes standing room, one free drink ticket, and a door prize drawing.

VIP ($125): Includes a table, one to two bottles of wine (depending on the size of the table), cupcakes, and a purse filled with offers and coupons from every single sponsor.

1 Response

  1. Well done, Alexandra! Thank you for such a real and honest perspective — you captured our spirit well, and represented the hard work that goes into it with great detail. We both appreciate that immensely.

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